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Safeguard pets from cold weather risks
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Automobile hazards, sudden temperature drops and dietary concerns are just a few of the dangers pets face even during the South's relatively mild winters.
Antifreeze, which is vital to cars during cold weather, presents pets with both a hazard and a temptation, said Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, associate clinical professor at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"Antifreeze is extremely dangerous for pets, even in small amounts. There are environmentally friendly types of antifreeze that are a little less hazardous, but all antifreeze is toxic to pets," Lenarduzzi said. "Be sure not to leave any of this toxic substance out where pets can get to it, and clean up any spills or drips immediately."
The toxic liquid supposedly has a sweet taste that tempts animals.
Automobiles pose another risk to cats and small wildlife. Warm engines and chilled animals can be a deadly combination.
"Cats will crawl into the engine because it is warm. If you have cats outside, knock on the hood or honk the horn before starting the ignition to scare them out before it is too late," he recommended. "Starting the engine with an animal lodged inside can have disastrous results."
When temperatures fall, an outdoor pet's needs rise. According to the Humane Society of the United States, wind chill can threaten a pet's life, no matter what the temperature.
Give cats a warm place to sleep inside your home, garage or an outdoor shed. Provide a sheltered area high off the ground for warmth, security and safety. A box with a soft blanket inside makes a cozy bed.
Protect dogs with a dry, draft-free doghouse. The Society recommended turning the house away from chilling winds, and covering the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. The doghouse floor should be a few inches off of the ground and covered with bedding.
"A house with bedding is best, but if you have a dog that destroys rugs or blankets, try hay as a bedding," Lenarduzzi said. "It is important to provide a way for the animal to get out of the rain and wind. Provide a shelter so that the animal is not sleeping on the cold concrete or ground."
Choose a doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in the animal's body heat.
Pregnant pets, as well as puppies and kittens, need special consideration. If newborns are instantly chilled, they are not likely to survive, Lenarduzzi said.
Burns are another common winter pet hazard, explained Lori S. Mohr, of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
"Never leave pets alone with electric, kerosene or propane space heaters. An accidental bump can result in terrible burns or a fire," Mohr warned. "Don't let pets spend too much time in front of the fireplace or near heating ducts. Even heating pads set on low can burn an animal."
A balanced diet can tip the scales in a pet's favor when the temperature drops.
"Underweight or pregnant pets can have special diet needs," Lenarduzzi explained. "Calorie demands increase for body temperature maintenance. Try feeding pets a little more when it is extremely cold."
A constant supply of fresh water is another important aspect of a pet's diet. Be sure to use non-metal water bowls to prevent wet tongues from sticking on frosty days. Make sure the chilly temperatures have not turned the pet's water supply into a solid block of ice.
To prevent diet distress, remember that pets are not disposals for holiday meal leftovers. The best place for the turkey carcass is the trash.
"If your pet eats a lot of bones, there is the possibility for lacerations or punctures in the intestinal tract, and many other digestive problems," Lenarduzzi said.
Pets taking a bite out of the bony leftovers may get more than they bargained for.
"Sometimes turkeys have a metal ring or strings to hold the legs, and if a pet eats these, partial or complete gastrointestinal obstruction could occur," he said. "Fat left on the carcass will also cause stomach upset."
Although the seasons change, some pet health safeguards should stay the same year-round. Mohr said that in many places, mosquitoes are present even in the winter, so be sure to continue your pet's heartworm medicine.
Whatever the weather, a little preparation can save time and lives during an emergency. A local veterinarian can provide emergency tips and an emergency number to call after hours.
For more information, contact: Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, (662) 325-3432